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Film / The Courier (2021)

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"If this mission was the least bit dangerous, you really are the last person we'd send."

A 2021 historical spy thriller directed by Dominic Cooke and starring Benedict Cumberbatch .

Set at the height of the Cold War, British businessman Greville Wynne (Cumberbatch) is recruited by MI-6 to make contact with a high-ranking Soviet mole. He agrees to what is laid out as a single, completely secure trip but is soon forced by circumstance and his own conscience to get more and more involved in a mission that holds the safety of the whole world at stake.

Not to be confused with The Courier (2019), a previously-released action thriller of the same name but otherwise unrelated.

This film contains examples of:

  • Binge Montage: A couple. Strictly business-related, of course.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Wynne is released, goes home to his family and dies peacefully in 1990. Penkovsky is executed and buried in an unmarked grave, but his family is at least left alone (albeit mourning his loss) and thanks to Wynne he died knowing his actions saved potentially millions of people.
  • Can't Refuse the Call Anymore: After spending most of the film looking forward to the day he could stop working for MI-6, Wynne is finally allowed to return to his normal life... only to realize that, with his friend and potentially the world in danger, he cannot bring himself to quit quite yet.
  • City of Spies: Moscow is described as this by Penkovsky. Even those who do not work for Soviet Intelligence are heavily incentivized to report any suspicious behavior.
  • Courier: Wynne's role, make contact with the right person and deliver what he gives back to MI-6. The less he knows about what he's delivering the safer it is, both for the mission and him personally.
  • Dramatization: As to be expected, some historical roles were condensed or expanded, the timeline of some events adjusted, and some guesses made, but as a whole Based on a True Story.
  • The Everyman: Why Wynne is chosen. Rather than send in an agent (who would need a cover and might be identified by Soviet Intelligence), MI-6 chooses to make contact through an international businessman who has a legitimate reason to visit Moscow. He is given minimal information and told to go about his business as he ordinarily would.
  • Family Man: Both Wynne and Penkovsky, a trait which they bond over. Both are married, have a child, and are concerned with their families' safeties above nearly anything else.
  • The Gulag: Well, it is Soviet Russia. As presented in the film, it's less a sentence for crimes and more a place to break people who still have information you need. Food is scarce and torture is a daily occurrence, only the form of torture varies. Death during incarceration is expected and to many a bullet is seen as more merciful.
  • I'm Not a Hero, I'm...: Well, "I'm not a spy, I'm," but same idea. Wynne is understandably confused as to why an ordinary businessman is being asked to participate in a spy mission. His recruiters' response is that an ordinary businessman, not a spy, is exactly what they need.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: As soon as Emily gets back to the American Embassy after her plan to get Penkovsky and Wynne out of the country goes wrong, when she sees a waiter carrying glasses of wine, she grabs one and downs it.
  • Mistaken for Cheating: Between a past indiscretion and being ordered not to tell his wife any of his true activities (for her own safety), it is somewhat understandable that this would happen.
  • The Mole: Oleg Penkovsky/Alex, a high-ranking Soviet official whose role as an industrial spy gave him a cover for repeatedly meeting with Greville Wynne. Just to be safe, he convinced his superiors that Wynne was a mole providing him with Western industrial secrets for his own personal profit.
  • Only in It for the Money: Wynne's cover. According to Alex, Soviet Intelligence would have no trouble believing a decadent Westerner would sell out his business contacts to a foreign nation if it meant he could profit from it.
  • Prisoner's Dilemma: Gribanov tries to convince Wynne to betray Penkovsky as "he's already betrayed his country, his family, do you think he would stay loyal to you?" Fortunately, he's lying.
  • Tempting Fate: As soon as Alex started talking about retiring to Montana, you knew he wasn't going to make it.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: The plan to help Penkovsky and his family to defect is discussed in great detail. In keeping with this trope, it goes badly wrong
  • Vodka Drunkenski: "If you're going to be doing business in Russia, I have one question for you: Can you hold your liquor?" - Oleg Penkovsky/Alex